(Originally posted on Tumblr, 4/20/2013)
Happy Saturday, Tumblr friends. This has been sitting with me all week, and I need to work it out.** As you may have heard, the US media has gotten itself into such a quagmire in trying to make essentialist claims about the identity of the bombers in Boston. They not only struggle to make their way around a map, but they can hardly report the news without being really desperate to find a brown/foreign scapegoat to wage war on. Or justify wars with. (Which is why some poor brown folks are getting bullied by some ignorant jerks.) There are some serious misunderstandings so prevalent today with regards to race, that it’s high time we in the United States had a serious media intervention. And a cultural one. So,
Race and ethnicity are two different things, yeah?
White people also come with ethnicities. White Russians. White Cubans. White Italians. White Americans.
Now, here’s the issue: the way people in or from the United States refer to themselves or others as “white” can usually be implied that they mean “white American.” For those of us in the US who are often referred to as “ethnic,” it specifically means we’re NOT white Americans, or POC, or “not from around here.” The latter seems to be the most taxing, especially when dealing with immigrants who appear racially white to us, but in their respective countries, belong to an ethnic group that we are unfamiliar with.
Which is why we’ve run into problems on Tumblr and beyond by calling, for example, all people from Greece “white people,” because Greece is geographically categorized as “Europe.” But actually, “white” and “person of color” in the context of the US is very very different from “white” in the context of the Mediterranean. In fact, many have contested the use of “PoC” in reference to places outside the United States. Not to mention these places, like Russia, Eastern Europe and Central Asia, have their own particular ethnicities within these regions.
This doesn’t mean that whiteness/Western assimilation isn’t adopted by these ethnic groups (like it has with Italians in the US), or that a racially white person has no ethnicity. When calling someone white, they may get defensive or call it “erasure,” because to simply peg them as “white” ignores the historical context of their own ethnicity. (But at the end of the day, you could still be ___ ethnicity and racially white.)
My point is: “Ethnic” and “white” should not be mutually exclusive. The biggest reason the United States has cultivated this homogenous concept of “white,” is because of the fact that many families of the Western European diaspora have been here for generations upon generations. And they have intermingled to the point where their origins are untraceable. (Not all families though— some emigrated here fairly recently, and some lucky others can still trace their ancestors back to Europe.)
Diaspora also needs to be examined with regards to race/ethnic identity. Take the Boston bombers’ Uncle Ruslan, for example; confused as to why these young men would take up a radicalized position on their identity, he says in exasperation, “They were not born in Chechnya!” But does a place of birth alone speak to a cultural identity? Or a political one? (This is not to make assumptions on their motivations behind the bombing. But I want to examine the ambiguity in their representation as first-generation immigrants who are not, just simply, “white.”)
As a second-generation, mixed-race Latina in the United States, for example, I feel that my identity is much more tied to belonging to the Caribbean diaspora, than in belonging to a specific nationality. (When I last visited Europe, I told people I was Latina, not American— and they seemed to get it!) People of the Mexican diaspora have done a similar thing by defining themselves as Chican@/Xican@. Because of the growing number of people who feel more defined by a diaspora than by a country, we gotta get with the times here. I think that, especially in discussing immigration and migrant communities, it’s becoming less and less relevant or accurate to ascribe a fixed national or ethnic identity upon people. It’s complicated, and my feelings are not quite resolved on the matter. But what do you all think?